WHILE Zimbabwean authorities are still ranting and raving at Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema (pictured) and the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Election Observer Mission head Nevers Mumba for the rejection of the country’s recent sham election results, a secret regional lobby is underway for an extraordinary summit to be convened on the Zimbabwe situation.
Lusaka has reportedly been lobbying some Sadc countries to call for an emergency meeting to discuss Zimbabwe’s recent shambolic elections which have left the country, region and sections of the international community divided.
Zimbabwe, which sits at the heart of the region, has also been a destabilising factor.
Hichilema, who is currently on a state visit to China to meet President Xi Jinping for bilateral talks, is the chair of the Sadc troika of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation.
He deployed Mumba to lead the Sadc election observer mission to Zimbabwe.
Mumba’s team said Zimbabwe’s elections did not meet the benchmarks in the country’s constitution, the Electoral Act and Sadc Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.
The mission, comprising members and experts from different countries across the region, effectively rejected Zimbabwe’s elections in an unprecedented move of courage and decisiveness.
This triggered an apoplectic uproar, with Harare officials, assisted by their Zambian allies, supporters and apologists, fulminating and thundering at Hichilema and Mumba, calling them names without dealing with the substance of their report.
Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba described Mumba as a “hired gun”, while Zanu PF mouthpiece Chris Mutsvangwa suggested he is a Western puppet.
But Mumba has vigorously defended his team, which has now produced the final report, dismissing pot-shots aimed at him and Hichilema as immaterial. He says the report belongs to Sadc, not him or any other individual as the Harare authorities claim, and if Zimbabwe wants to reply to it then it must follow protocol through the regional body’s headquarters in Gaborone, Botswana.
The lobby’s narrative is that Zimbabwe has again failed to hold free, fair and credible elections. The country remains locked in a trajectory of disputed polls that will compound challenges for economic recovery and destabilise the region.
The elections again exposed widespread irregularities, illegalities and a blatant disregard for the law and international best practice measured against the country’s own constitution, electoral law and Sadc principles and guidelines governing democratic elections.
Sadc member states are under pressure to take strong and effective action to deal with one of the region’s most protracted grave crises — Zimbabwe.
Its credibility as a real force for democratic change and progress is on the line here and its leaders are being pressured to insist on proper elections and settlement of the Zimbabwe question.
They are also being forced to deal with the issue in view of other Sadc elections ahead: Eswatini in September, Madagascar (November), Democratic Republic of Congo (December), and Botswana 2024.
For the emergency meeting to take place, Hichilema must first convince the Sadc summit troika, which includes chairperson Angolan President João Lourenço. Other members of the summit troika are Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is the incoming chair, and outgoing chair DRC President Felix Tshisekedi.
The recent Sadc summit in Luanda last on 17 August Summit elected Lourenço the chair and Mnangagwa incoming chairperson.
It also elected Hichilema as chairperson of the organ on politics, defence and security cooperation and Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan as incoming chair. Namibian President Hage Geingob is the outgoing chair.
For Hichiliema to pull off the extraordinary summit meeting, he would also need to carry his own troika of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, meaning getting the support of Tanzania and Namibia.
With that core in place, then the bigger task is to convince South African President Cyril Ramaphosa who has been fighting in Mnangagwa’s corner, but has his own initiative going on behind-the-scenes.
As incoming Sadc chair, Mnangagwa wields clout to scuttle the lobby. Charamba hinted at that.
Charamba suggested Mnangagwa will next year use his Sadc power of incumbency to kill the damning elections report.
Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi, whose country hosts the Sadc headquarters, is also pro-Mnangagwa.
Even though several Sadc leaders congratulated Mnangagwa on his disputed victory, only three Sadc leaders attended Mnangagwa’s much-hyped inauguration — Ramaphosa, Tshisekedi and Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi.
This suggests Mnangagwa, who is battling a political legitimacy problem, is not strongly supported across the region.
Compared to the late former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe who had the experience, stature, capacity and respect to keep Sadc behind him, Mnangagwa is not in the same class and league.
After Charamba’s rant, the Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services ministry’s permanent secretary, Nick Mangwana, who is government spokesperson, confirmed there is a lobby for an extra-ordinary summit, blaming Zambia, without naming it, for the development.
“There is some treacherous lobbying going on by one Sadc member state to have an extraordinary summit on Zimbabwe. The other members are seeing through this and it’s not going to happen. This agenda being pushed by this member state is not its own. It’s doing a hatchet job for some powerful nations,” Mangwana said.
While the Sadc mission’s mention of structural and systemic challenges in Zimbabwe reflects a break from the past, the question is whether it has the political will, courage and capacity to push further.
South Africa’s Institute of Security Studies says Sadc leaders may not have the guts to bring back onto the regional agenda and tackle the Zimbabwe situation.
“Zanu PF can rely on Sadc’s collective management style grounded in comradeship and the primacy of stability rather than confrontation or action.
“Sadc is unlikely to muster the political consensus and willpower to put Zimbabwe back on the bloc’s agenda. Not all member states will be comfortable with Sadc election observer mission (SEOM)’s findings, which could set an unwelcome precedent that represents a departure from its previous approach.
“With Zanu PF’s manoeuvring and Sadc’s approach of non-interference, the regional bloc is unlikely to act on the disputed elections.”
Zimbabwe has been a scar on the conscience of the region for sometime now.
At an extraordinary summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in March 2007, Sadc asked former South African president Thabo Mbeki to mediate talks between the ruling Zanu PF and then main opposition MDC. Mbeki’s mediation ended up with a Government of National Unity in 2009.